For us here at HOGS, vacation means an opportunity to take some space from our regular routines and daily rhythms. We totally unplug, leaving phones and computers at home—and like to spend time in places rich in both culture and agriculture. More than just the big beautiful sites and museums, we like to sit in cafes, explore grocery stores, wander through markets, go hiking, and talk to as many people as possible.
While Italy’s agricultural practices have long been a part of our hearts, more recently we have been appreciating connections to permaculture. In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren mentions Italy on several occasions. When his son, Oliver Holmgren, went abroad to gain experience in sustainable agriculture as a teenager, his destination was Italy.
If sustainability implies both natural and cultural endurance, Italy is certainly an incredible example. And because we believe that the future health of the planet really depends upon the vitality of small farms, Italy's centuries long tradition of small, local farming is fascinating for an array of reasons. We spend our vacation time with open eyes, eager to observe and learn. We love looking at trellises, terraces, fruit trees, and garden designs. Check out these gorgeous terraces used to grow grapes on the steep Cinque Terre hills:
Permaculture also reaches beyond farms and into economics and commerce. One of our favorite Italian pastimes is exploring the small grocery markets. No trip to Italy is complete without a visit to the local COOP – the Italian Consumers’ Cooperative. The first COOP was established in Turin in 1854 – and they continue to grow and structure the distribution of food in Italy. COOPs are intelligent places. Their line of products use environmentally responsible packaging and they carry their own line of highly affordable organic products. COOPs don’t give out plastic bags and you bag own groceries. The stores are usually simple and are not flooded with advertisements. If you want to use a shopping cart, you need to put in a coin deposit and return the cart to get it back. Prices are great, the products are local, and the quality is always high. We recently learned that Italy has more co-ops per capita than any other country in the world. This is a small COOP in Riomaggiore:
We also came across a brilliant little shop Sarzana called La Bottega Sotto Casa, which is taking on an important experiment in sustainable packaging. This store has all bulk products—everything from herbs to coffee to beer to cereals to laundry detergent and dish soaps. Just bring back one bottle, jar, or bag and have them fill it with the amount you want. Recycling is great, but requires energy input, reuse only requires mindfulness...
This is how they describe themselves: dagli imballaggi di plastica da confezioni ingombranti da scarti inutili da costi per il contenitore, per la marca da rifiuti, montagne di rifiuti da ogm, pesticidi da quantità eccedenti il bisogno reale da scadenze da chilometri di trasporto su gomma da filiere lunghe, da intermediari.
In English: Free from plastic packaging, from bulky packaging, from unnecessary waste, costs for the container, mountains of waste from GMOs, pesticides in excess of the actual need, free from deadlines by miles of road transport and by long chains, as well as by intermediaries.
WOW! Check out their website here: http://www.labottegasottocasa.it
Thank you Italy once again for providing some positive examples of permaculture in action.